As Occupy Baltimore rape charge fizzles, security and homeless issues remain

Participants asking, should protest continue in its present form?

occupy baltimore here lies democracy

A month into their encampment near the Inner Harbor, Occupy Baltimore is grappling with negative media scrutiny.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

Recent days have hung heavy for Occupy Baltimore. The group has struggled with allegations of sexual assault, revised its sexual assault policy in the face of criticism from, among other sources, a nationally known right-wing website, dealt with an influx of homeless people to their encampment and gotten ensnarled in a shoving incident involving a Fox 45 television news crew filming a critical report.

“I’m a little frustrated. There’s been this scandal-finding approach taken by television journalists with no attempt to actually communicate with people here,” said Ian Logsdon, a member of Occupy Baltimore’s media team.

Never mind that the sexual-assault-at-Occupy-Baltimore allegation that clattered around in the local news cycle for 24 hours turned out to be unfounded. With some in the blogosphere and local media poised to weave any whiff of trouble at Occupy into a dark new narrative, Logsdon remarked, “I’m beginning to hate Twitter.”

In a statement released yesterday, Baltimore City Police Det. Jeremy Silbert said, “At this time, the facts and evidence do not suggest that a sex offense occurred.”

Silbert was responding to press requests that police expand on their disclosure Monday that they were investigating allegations of a Friday night sexual assault and larceny at McKeldin Square, where Baltimore’s branch of Occupy Wall Street has been camped for nearly four weeks.

“While the victim at no time reported a sexual assault to police, detectives offered the victim a precautionary SAFE Exam at Mercy Hospital and reached out to the advocacy community to provide her with support,” police  said via a release that Silbert emailed to the media.

Occupy Baltimore spokespeople, for whom the subject is sensitive, were taking the same sort of cautious tone.

The homeless have been present at Occupy Baltimore since Day One, but their presence now has become an issue.

The homeless have been present at Occupy Baltimore since Day One, but their presence now has become an issue. (Photo by Fern Shen)

“We take reports of alleged sexual assault very seriously, we would never question them and do not consider that it’s our place to comment on them – it’s a police matter,” Logsdon said. “We have a zero tolerance policy for drugs and any sort of violence.”

Asked if they’ve had to enforce that policy, Logsdon said “We have had to ask intoxicated people who wandered in to leave a number of times, but I am not aware of ever catching someone in the act of consuming drugs or alcohol.” He said they’d had no idea about a sexual assault allegation until they heard media reports about it.

In group meetings, though, members have been venting about their frustration dealing with drug addicts, drug users and assorted troublemakers at the site and questioning whether the Occupation in its present form can continue.

Police Report Released

The 22-year-old woman whose report to police was later described to the media as a possible sexual assault said she had gotten into an argument Friday night with her boyfriend at the Inner Harbor and wound up in a tent with a 29-year-old who said he was part of Occupy Baltimore.

When she woke up, according to what she told police, “the cheek on her buttocks was sore and she did not remember what happened.” She also said an $1,800 wad of cash she’d been clutching (from “a settlement”) was gone, according to the report. The woman was transported to Mercy Hospital where a precautionary exam was conducted.

Still, Fox 45 pushed ahead with the story line late yesterday – hours after police had issued their finding of no evidence of a sexual assault.

“Mayor Rawlings-Blake Concerned About Illegal Activity at Occupy Baltimore,” their 4:23 p.m. story declared. (They presumably did not ask the mayor about the daily city mayhem outside of Occupy, for which police have found evidence, incidents like the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl lured by five men into a van in West Baltimore.) The network has been pushing hard on the issue since airing a Monday report showing an unnamed woman who, they say, told the reporters she was raped and robbed.

Fox also filmed a man leading cameras to the edge of a tent, where he picked up what he said were a box of needles and a bag of “ties to tie off with.” Reporter Melinda Roeder described this as “evidence of drug use.”

Coming upon what appears to be a dispute between two tent occupants, Fox 45 then tried to film the encounter. People in the crowd appear to block them, saying, “No cameras.” Both sides have since accused the other of pushing and shoving.

Issues Occupying Occupy: Security and the Homeless

The sexual assault issue was the first negative press for Baltimore’s Occupiers. A pamphlet with group policy on the matter (since rewritten) appeared to dissuade those who believe they were assaulted from going to the police.

Anyone who thought they’ve been sexually assaulted, the pamphlet said, was “encouraged to immediately report the incident to the Security Committee,” which would investigate and “supply the abuser with counseling resources.”

The directive also noted, “Though we do not encourage the involvement of the police in our community, the survivor has every right, and the support of Occupy Baltimore, to report the abuse to the appropriate authorities.”

A reporter for The Baltimore Sun, which reported at length on the pamphlet, noted in a blog post that the pamphlet “came to our attention from a blogger posting on Andrew Breitbart’s big government website.”

Now, there’s the homeless issue. In McKeldin Square, as elsewhere around the country, a growing number of homeless started showing up at Occupy encampments, posing an ethical and logistical problem.

These problems were heightened in Baltimore’s case when homeless advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland last week threatened to file a lawsuit against the city, saying that they were failing to provide enough beds for homeless women.

Some of the homeless people interviewed by The Brew outside the shelter parking lot (where many say they have been sleeping) said they’d found a refuge at Occupy. The Sun reported on this phenomenon as well.

Occupy participants say they’re proud to welcome the homeless as part of the “99 percent” they represent, but are concerned that they might bring with them some security issues or perhaps simply give city officials a rationale for shutting down the protest.

“We are having discussions about whether there is a better way to deal with security,” said Logsdon. Those sometimes-heated discussions are open for anyone to watch on the live feeds of the group’s nightly General Assembly meeting.

Last night, participants worked for the second night in a row through the big question – whether “the whole encampment model” should be retained, tweaked or ditched.

“Overextending Ourselves?”

A woman giving a health committee report asked whether “feeding people who are drug users is further enabling them?” She apologized for the tough message: “I know everyone here has a big heart.” She also told how “we had a scare yesterday [when] a man with a bleeding head who was on heroin walked by our food table.”

Another said that “there are people who feel we’ve over extended ourselves … instead of demanding that the city provide more money to shelter the homeless, we are sheltering the homeless.”

And yet many also spoke passionately against disbanding.

“I would hate for Baltimore to be the first place where voluntary un-encampment happens because of Baltimore’s shit,” said one speaker. “As an Occupy movement, we’re supposed to be stronger than that!”

Speaking on the phone, Logsdon said the group has been trying to “have somebody awake at all times,” but can’t guarantee security.

“We are not a government entity. We don’t have the ability to enforce anything,” he said. “It’s not our space. It’s not like we can exclude people.”

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  • The Baltimore Chop

    Nice look at the current state of things. Sadly, none of this is shocking and it’s what’s prevented me from getting personally involved since the beginning.

     ““supply the abuser with counseling resources.”???

    Give me a break.

    • Jenni

      There’s nothing unusual about that. People convicted of domestic violence are often ordered by courts to get counseling.

  • A very concerned citizen

    To the occupied wall street crowd; Stop finding fault, find a remedy.

    • 7thGuest

      I think this is always a bad argument (but not uncommon).  Simply bringing attention to a problem is a good first step.

    • Jenni

      Why don’t you tell the 1% to find a remedy? Or at the very least, attend a General Assembly meeting and suggest a remedy. Stop criticizing from the sidelines.

  • Anonymous

    A very concerned citizen,
    That goes for you too–even if you are not complaining–the remedy part.  Baltimore Chop–this only shows that protests and sit ins are not easy in a democracy that is all sewn up by the big banks and big govt.  Even sit ins must be bankrolled and media bought.  You ain’t got a chance in hell with any protest in a country that’s been sold to the highest bidders. 

  • Dahlen

    I have been against the camping aspect of this movement from the beginning. As the weeks go by, it becomes more apparent why it’s a bad idea. Mixing street smart homeless people and other questionable people with unknown backgrounds with naive young people who are clearly not street smart into a communal living arrangement is a recipe for disaster. As mentioned in the story, there is no guarantee of security at night. It’s just a matter of time before a serious assault occurs.

    I call on the Occupy movement to get their own private, enclosed space where access can be controlled. Have your infrastructure and meetings there, and protest in the square or any other public place during the day. The squatting part of this movement is only going to hurt your cause.

    • Jenni

      Here’s an idea: Instead of criticizing from the sidelines, join the movement and make that suggestion at a General Assembly meeting. I think it’s a bad suggestion, though. The homeless are not “questionable” people. They are the 99%, too. Also, calling the Occupiers “naive young people” is offensive. One great thing about the movement is that it includes people of all ages. And if they were naive, they wouldn’t be protesting.

  • Another concerned citizen

    Why not “Occupy” the South Lawn of the White House?  This is where the root of your concerns begin.

    • Jenni

      Yeah, because the Secret Service would have no problem with that.

  • Anonymous

    From the series–USA–2011

    The paradoxes

    When you camp out,
    the elements will come to you,
    the wind will sneak in with its cold fangs,
    clawing at the margins of your tent,
    the rain will find you
    and drench your makeshift shelter,
    it will drop its thuds on your roof,
    it will mock you for doing what you are doing,
    “Why,” it will inquire, “Do you persist in your foolishness?”

    and voices from far away will become a force,
    waves of dissent against the dissent,
    malcontents versus the discontent,
    the proper ones– straight– confronting
    the crooked ones– slanted,

    they will plant themselves-
    the proper ones–
    in the public square you occupy,
    they will turn their cameras on you–
    your failings they will magnify–
    and broadcast–
    you are what you fight,
    you are also the other,

    when you camp out, they will find you-
    the “refuse” who refuse to disappear,
    the ones from under the bridges–
    from the subterranean hell
    of how we are stratified,

    from the park benches,
    from the dumpsters,
    from the rough neighborhoods,
    thorns on their faces,
    needles in their arms,
    rheum in their eyes,
    they will ask you without asking,
    if you are what you fight,
    if you are also the other–

    they are trouble,
    uncouth, uncut,
    the uncounted–
    are jagged–
    they will draw blood-
    they will want what you have–
    what they may never have–
    what they had and lost,
    they are the not fully approximated percent –
    from the far far side– they are the ones
    the census and the censors avoid,

    the ones-from whom most eyes are averted,
    the ones you didn’t count-
    would want to be counted,
    hungry for what you have-
    your tents, your clean water,
    your food, your common purpose,

    from the fringes–
    how to get warm when it is cold,
    how to survive the hurricanes,
    the blizzards–
    how to handle–
    the violators,
    the prowlers,
    the interlopers,
    the thieves,

    they know the “how”
    about the things you don’t know the “how”–
    about– the things– you never thought about–
    but they are also sometimes
    the thieves,
    the prowlers,
    the violators,
    the dangers–
    the proper ones foretold-

    the systematic ones who hug the system–
    no matter that the system has cheated them,
    no matter that the system
    has come apart at the seams–
    the ones who say there’s nothing wrong
    with the way things are,
    that this a passing phase,
    that this is a recession’s emesis–
    that no one is to fault–
    things happen,
    come and go in cycles,
    always been this way,
    always will be–

    The ones who say, “Told you so!”
    Go home,
    Be the solution not the problem.”
    From the land of the cliches,
    the ones who claim
    the public square is also theirs–
    not just yours to monopolize,

    you are surrounded–by these–
    by the excavators–
    the glare of their light,
    the name callers–
    their heat,
    you are surrounded,
    bedeviled, besieged–

    by the ones looking
    for the big foot in your small tents,
    the complaints, the divisions,
    the irritations, the fears,
    the realities–
    the elements you could not keep out–

    the uncounted caught with you in the melee,
    they are the defeated,
    they are not the 99 percent,
    they’re not you–they’re not them–
    they are the incidentals and the accidentals–
    they are the opportunists–

    And far above,
    in the sky scrapers– the one percent,
    they move stealthily in the shadows–
    among their junkets,
    and their pleasures,
    their board games,
    and their casino forays,
    their deals on accelerating wheels,
    above the ruins-
    in the shadows they flit,

    Stopping at the windows
    of their speculations,
    they pull the curtains now and then
    framing the questions,
    “Will they ever get us,
    the fools?
    How can they when
    our freedom has been paid for?
    How can they when they posted our bail–
    before we were ever jailed?”

    They are the one per cent,
    stealthily in the shadows,
    they are the oppressors and the oppressed,
    they are the finders and the keepers
    of the rulers behind the columns and the pillars–
    they are the victors?
    they’re not you, they’re not them,
    they’re the incidentals and the accidentals–
    they are the opportunists.

    Usha Nellore






    • Dahlen

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but from your writings, I would describe you as an idealist, a romantic, a dreamer. I consider myself a pragmatist, a realist. It sounds to me that you believe the protesters should continue occupying this square no matter what.

      Please consider this purely hypothetic scenario, that I think is plausible but hope would never happen. A young idealist, much like yourself, is staying overnight in the square and for whatever reason is assaulted by some disturbed person that is also staying there. The person suffers serious, life-changing injuries that also place huge financial burdens on the family of the person. What would you tell the family? Would you tell them that their son or daughter is suffering for a cause that was worth it? Keep in mind that only a small number of people in this movement are actually camping out in the Baltimore chapter. I don’t believe that the leaders, who are frequently quoted in the media articles, are actually staying overnight on a regular basis.

      • Lkatzinmd

        My son, quoted throughout this article, stays out multiple days a week because he believes in the movement. He holds a full time job, lives independently in the city, and is in grad school, so there are definitely times he cannot be there. But he’s basically grabbing every moment not in class or at work to thoughtfully participate in their democratic process. Please don’t assume that just because someone is quoted by the media they aren’t involved. Of course I can only speak for him, as he’s the one I speak about him, as I don’t live there and have only had the opportunity to visit once.

        • Dahlen

          Thanks for the clarification. Is your son Mr. Logsdon?

      • 7thGuest

        I consider myself a realist with occasional idealist tendencies.   I don’t know about Usha, but I would, were I in that position, express my belief that their child was injured or killed for a worthy cause.  Of course, I hope no one else is injured in these protests.

  • Anonymous

     7th Guest,
    You don’t belabor the point like I do.  You are succinct and you are brilliant.  Dahlen, I don’t believe that the protesters should occupy the square no matter what.  I feel sad we live in a world where they may not be able to do it.  If by that I am an idealist and a dreamer then I guess I am one.  Despite all your big growls against them you have shown a chink in your armor–you are protective toward them.  You want them to come to no harm.  I wish the same.  Every cause automatically generates its anti-cause–like matter and anti matter.  The innate contradictions in this movement have inspired me to write.  I am glad the young people are not cynical–they are standing up for what they believe is just.  They have come in numbers.  They are braving the elements.  And I am in their corner.  The Tea Party versus big govt.  OWS versus the rich–we are on a roll.  What can I say–I love it when people rattle the status quo.     

    • Dahlen

      I have never said that harm should come to them. I may not agree with all of your views, but I’m not a monster. And for the record, I am not a Tea Party supporter.

  • Anonymous

    Indeed you are not a monster–in fact I think you are the opposite.  I do get your point of view.  It comes from a subtly different place from my own and that’s OK.  I don’t support the Tea Party either but I admire they had the gumption to organize.  They had big money bankrolling them–the Koch brothers for instance.  But they too had a cause.  Our govt. has been overspending.  Look at the wars, the bloodshed, the huge sums of money missing in Afghanistan and Iraq–the Pentagon just located billions of this missing money and says it was lying all along in Iraq’s central Bank–my God, do they think we are fools?  We need more accountability from govt–they have no money for Medicare and Medicaid but they have plenty of money to bribe the war lords of Afghanistan.  I understand we need to defend ourselves but in this manner and to what purpose?  So the Tea Party’s call for greater govt accountability and for less govt. spending is good.  But the Tea Party is ghoulish in that it is out to destroy our social network, it seems to want to blow govt. to smithereens and its zeal may have been responsible for the downgrading of the US debt.  Yes, I see the Tea party for what it really is–an extremist movement and I see why you don’t sympathize.  I don’t agree with every aspect of who they are, but I agree with a portion of their quest.  Strangely they like OWS  are opposed to crony capitalism, govt. in bed with business.  Look, we Americans are a patient people.  We’ve had it better than most other folks on Earth.  But I believe the sleeping giant is now up like Rip Van Winkle.  We need to change.  My own understanding from what you’ve been writing is that you consider all these movements disruptive to America and rather unnecessary, considering we do have a democracy where we can empty the gallery of all its rogues.  You know what, the process is so corrupt that’s what has become arduous.      

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